By Jessica Messerer-Trosin
When Lee Kenney’s grandfather passed away in 1971, Lee inherited a silver bugle. Lee would have never imagined the things he would find out about his grandfather, William Kenney, thereafter.
As Lee found out, the bugle actually belonged to a completely different regiment than the one William was a part of in the First World War.
So in 2014 Lee embarked on a trip to England during which time he wanted to accomplish several things including returning the bugle.
Bringing the bugle back shifted the search for information about his grandfather.
“Once we gave the bugle back, things started happening,” Lee said.
Using Ancestry.ca, Lee and his cousin, who he calls “Vira” because of detective-like skills set used to find out about their grandfather.
They found William Kenney was a British Home Child, one of close to 120,000 girls and boys who came from Britain between 1869 and 1948, according to the British Home Children Advocacy and Research Association (BHCARA).
According to BHCARA, British Home Children were emigrated to Canada and other countries
like Australia and New Zealand by charitable organizations like Barnardo’s, Quarrier’s and The Salvation Army, for example.
William, a Barnardo Boy as they were called, came to Canada in 1905 at the age of 15.
He travelled as a steerage passenger along with 264 other boys.
Once they arrived in Canada, various organizations were supposed to track and monitor the children, but many children weren’t, including William.
He was taken to several farms to work, as most of the children were, but he eventually ran away. Many, especially in Canada, believed British home children to be orphans, but few of them were.
Most of them worked on farms or as servants. According to BHCARA, the Canadians saw the British Home Children as inferior and the children were ashamed of their backgrounds.
William returned to England in 1910.
What happened in those ve years is unknown, but Lee knows his grandfather travelled first class from Montreal to Liverpool.
He then joined the British Army, for which he served eight years, 230 days.
In 1921, William returned to Canada with his wife and their son, Lee’s father.
The original customs declaration is one document Lee has had the chance to see.
It was interesting for him to be able to recognize both of his grandparents’ handwriting on the document.
He was also able to see his grandfather’s original discharge papers.
During the Second World War, William was a reserve instructor on the Prairie and he became a lifetime member of the Royal Canadian Legion.
His background as a British Home Child and his time in the war were things that William never spoke about, according to Lee.
In fact, no one in the family had any idea that William was a British Home Child. Lee suspects that only his grandmother knew.
It was his grandparents’ understanding of William’s background, Lee thinks that made them sympathetic towards one particular neighbour in the small town of Wawota, Saskatchewan where he grew up.
Harry Arnold was, as Lee describes, the “town weirdo.”
“The little old man who dressed dirty, went around with a wheelbarrow and dragged home stu ,” he said.
When he was about seven or eight, Lee would take meals to Arnold.
“I remember as a kid, taking up covered plates to Harry,” Lee recalled.
It wasn’t until recently that Lee discovered Arnold was a Barnardo’s Boy too, a fact he thinks his grandparents were aware of.
Lee’s search into his family has also allowed him to find relatives in Australia and Tasmania. He has reached out via email, but has not received a reply.
In the meantime he hopes to nd some more about his grandfather’s childhood.
“We want to ll in some gaps,” he said.
He speaks with his cousin on the phone at least once per week to discuss ndings on their family. They hope to read war diaries about William’s time as a brigade soldier.
Lee hopes that the story of the British Home Children will be talked about more in the future, as it’s something that few people know about today, yet something that is relevant to a large number of Canadians.
In fact, more than one in 10 Canadians is a descendant of a British Home Child, according to BHCARA.
Lee usually goes to the ceremony, but this Remembrance Day, he will be placing a wreath on the cenotaph on behalf of the British Home Children at Riverside Park.
“We’re remembering soldiers but we’re also remembering history. Every wreath on that thing represents humans. We should never lose sight of that,” Lee said.
“I’m sort of doing it for my grandparents. I’m doing it for Harry Arnold too, or the kids who didn’t get searched for.”